Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2009-10

I had no idea what to call the list this week. After mentioning Dalton Smith last week, it got me thinking about other players in a similar situation who could make an impact. Those players being, 1992 and 1991 born players who didn't play or played very sparingly in the OHL last year. So I did a lot of researching to drum up 10 guys who could fit that description.

Of course, any list like that could include guys like Cam Fowler, Jeremy Morin or Brandon Maxwell. But I decided against including them. Instead I went with more unheralded guys. Every year, lesser knowns like Calvin de Haan (3rd rounder in 2007) and Matt Clark (11th rounder in 2006) make OHL teams with little hype, only to emerge as impact players.

However, since I had to do a lot of research for this week's list, it will not appear as the usual top 10 list. The players will not be ranked according to their potential impact, because I simply have not seen most of these guys play. Instead, it will be a list of 10 guys who could make such impacts. No order, just 10 guys whom you may not know right now, but could know by this time next year.

Here are 10 potential 1992 and 1991 born rookies to look out for next season:

David Searle - Guelph Storm
Searle is a gigantic defenceman who played for the GOHL's Guelph Dominators (Junior B) last season. Listed at 6'5, 225lbs, Searle was the 32nd overall pick by Guelph in the 2008 Priority draft. While probably not a threat to be a big contributor offensively, judging by his 9 points in 50 games last year, Searle could supply Guelph's defense with a towering and imposing stay at home presence. Considering the uncertainty around Guelph's goaltending situation next season, the addition of a more mature Searle could help keep pucks out.

Shayne Rover - Niagara IceDogs
Rover is another big defenceman and a fellow 2nd round pick in 2008. Rover did see some limited time with Niagara last year when they were experiencing injury trouble on the backend. At 6'3, 200lbs, Rover played well in a limited role, showcasing a solid skating ability and defensive presence. He played the majority of the season with the York Simcoe Express Midget AAA team, where he was a AAA all star. If Rover can play well early in the season, he could easily slip into the IceDogs top 4 defenceman and have a Matt Clark type impact for Niagara.

Aaron Pearce - Peterborough Petes
Pearce, a talented offensive forward, was the last pick of the 2nd round in 2008. The 5'11 forward was an OPJHL junior all star last season, where he posted 47 points in 49 games for Georgetown. The problem is that Pearce isn't yet committed to coming to the OHL. Still undecided on his future, Pearce has been talking to NCAA schools as well. The fact that Pearce has yet to sign a letter of intent anywhere, and that he's still in active talks with Peterborough, bodes well for their chances to convince him to play. If he does play, Pearce could be an immediate impact forward in their top 6.

Steven Beyers - Sudbury Wolves
Beyers, the first pick of the third round in 2008, is an undersized center who played with Orangeville of the OPJHL. Beyers was also an OPJHL junior all star, after posting 31 points in 34 games in 2008-09. Although slightly undersized at 5'10, Beyers could make an impact in Sudbury by giving them more scoring depth and rounding out their top 3 forward lines.

Chris Brown - Owen Sound Attack
Brown was the team's 3rd round pick in 2008 out of the York Simcoe Express. Brown is a 6'1 winger with speed, offensive ability and grit. While he only played Junior C this past year with Alliston, Brown did finish in the top 10 of league scoring with 52 points in 37 games. With Owen Sound hoping to make a climb in the West, Brown could be a welcome addition to the teams forward lines, where he could be an offensive catalyst for the second or third line.

Matt Solomon - Erie Otters
This talented offensive defenceman was a 12th round pick of Erie in 2008. He was a OPJHL junior all star this year while playing for Upper Canada. The 6'0 Solomon nearly led his team in scoring as a defenceman with 8 goals and 23 points in 40 games. He is a slick skating, puck mover who could fit very well into an Erie line up which badly needs more offense from its backend.

Phil Lane - Brampton Battalion
Lane is a real wildcard. He could have been a first rounder in 2008 had it not been for the scares that he'd go NCAA. The New York native ended up going in the 4th round to Brampton. However, he spurned the NTDP to play in Buffalo of the OPJHL last year, where his 42 points in 45 games led him to become an OPJHL junior all star. Lane is a 6'2 forward with speed, skill and grit. The total package. At the recent US Select 17 Camp, he outperformed Windsor's Austin Watson, whom is obviously a very talented player. The question remains as to whether he's going to play in Brampton or play with Omaha in the USHL to keep his NCAA options open. If he does decide to play in Brampton, he could be an immediate impact player.

Dalton McGrath - Barrie Colts
McGrath is a goaltender who was Barrie's 6th round pick in 2008. He was an OPJHL junior all star this year while playing for the dominate Couchiching Terriers. In fact, Mcgrath lost only one game all year (in the playoffs) and was a perfect 16-0 in the regular season. His numbers are quite sparkling, with a 1.65 GAA and .937 SV%. His performance earned him a share of the Rookie of the Year in his Division. With Barrie trading Michael Hutchinson to London, Barrie has opened up a spot for Mcgrath to likely back up Peter Di Salvo. However I wouldn't be surprised to see them split games, similar to how Hutchinson and Di Salvo did last year.

Branden Morris - Kitchener Rangers
Morris, a 6'3 defenceman, was a 4th round pick of Kitchener in 2008. He was a OPJHL junior all star this year playing for Cobourg. Morris is a tall and lanky two way defender who put up 13 points in 50 games. He's also not afraid to use his size and is an aggressive defender. He could be a welcomed addition to the improving Kitchener Rangers blueline, if he can fight through the log jam.

Domenic Alberga - Brampton Battalion
Alberga was actually a 5th round pick of Brampton in 2009, as a draft overager (1992 born). This 6'1 forward led Villanova of the OPJHL in scoring with 40 points in 49 games. He also posted 104 penalty minutes which leads you to believe he's got some feistyness in him. After a very strong season, Alberga actually shared his Division Rookie of the Year award with the aforementioned Dalton McGrath. The door is open for Alberga to have big impact in the OHL this year, with Brampton likely losing Cody Hodgson, Evgeni Grachev, and Matt Duchene to the NHL (or AHL in Grachev's case).

Two Honorable Mentions Worth Noting:

Nick Quinn - Sudbury Wolves
The first pick of the 2nd round in 2008, Quinn has thus far rejected Sudbury's wishes for him to play for them. Quinn, a 6'0 defenceman, is apparently looking for an NCAA scholarship, with Boston College being the most talked about destination. So while his OHL prospects are looking suspect at best (since he has yet to show for a Sudbury camp), I think he's still worth noting because of the impact he could have. As an OPJHL junior all star for Dixie, Quinn put up 25 points in 45 games. He is an excellent two way blueliner who could immediately make Sudbury's defence better should he change his mind.

Brock Higgs - Kingston Frontenacs
Higgs could possibly make the biggest impact of any player on this list. The 5'11 forward, and Kingston native, was a 5th round pick of the Frontenacs in 2008. A dynamic offensive player, Higgs finished second in scoring for OPJHL Champions Kingston, with 28 goals and 58 points in 49 games. Higgs was especially incredible for Kingston on their quest for the RBC Cup, where he had 22 goals in 25 playoff games. This led all OPJHL players in playoff scoring. Higgs would be an immediate impact player in the OHL and would be a big boost to an improving Kingston team. However, for whatever reason, the Kingston native does not appear to want to play for his hometown OHL team. He's verbally committed to Canisius for 2010, which could obviously change the same way Ethan Werek's commitment to Boston University did.

Got any other under the radar guys who could make an impact on your team this year? Leave a comment!

Stay tuned for next week's Top 10 which will take a look at the apparent top performances for OHL players at NHL Development Camps.


sager said...

Good stuff as always, Brock.

It is far from a stunner that Brock Higgs would not jump to play for the Frontenacs. If you'll indulge me...

The player said a month ago that it "looks like" he is returning to the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs in the OJHL and will go to Canisius in 2010. Again, he's 17 years old, he could change his mind.

There is the education package if you end up going to a Canadian university after major junior. However, as OHL alum Jason Cassidy explained, it's determined by how high a player was drafted. Higgs was a fifth-rounder, so how much does he get?

Meantime, and who knows how much stickiness this has with agents and parents, the Frontenacs are the franchise which not so long ago, was were sued by a former player after Larry Mavety tried to deny him education package. As the player, Brody Todd, told the Toronto Star (Nov. 26, 2006): "I was disgusted how they held this (education package) back from me after playing in the league for five years ... If I hadn't pushed and sued, I likely would have ended up with nothing."

sager said...

Blogger's not letting me post my full comment so this has become a two-parter. I'm very sorry.

There is a lot of antipathy among the sporting class in Kingston toward the Fronts.

Their owner, Doug Springer, has a reputation for being aloof, arrogant and not accountable to fans. They haven't had a playoff series win since he bought the Fronts in the late 1990s, but he refuses to get replace Larry Mavety with a real GM. Nevertheless, the city of Kingston, which was just ranked as one of Canada's worst-run cities in a MacLean's magazine report, built a $43-million downtown arena, thus making every Kingston taxpayer a stakeholder in the Frontenacs.

Nevertheless, when the city council tried to cover its butt by demanding the Frontenacs appear at a public meeting to discuss their "marketing plan," (wink, wink), Springer refused to take questions and instead had the PR guy and Gilmour (who had been in the league for about 30 games at the point) speak.

It's also telling that whenever players on their way out of town are asked what they'll miss most about Kingston, they invariably pause and say, "The people, the city." It's never the organization.

Simply put, the Frontenacs have a bad reputation. They need to change the culture, since as of right now, they're not part of the fabric of the community, in the manner of other junior teams.

People in Kingston are pretty smart. They know there's no rebuilding taking place as long as Springer interferes in hockey decisions and as long as Mavety has a say. The attendance spike they got from Gilmour lasted about one game.

As for Higgs' personal choice, I don't have first-hand insight. It could be that his family is big on education. The Kingston paper had a feature on Brock during the playoffs which noted his older sister goes to Queen's University, a pretty prestigious academic institution.

Canisius also has a lot of cachet. It's a first-rate Catholic college (and Higgs does attend a Catholic high school, Holy Cross). As a college on the border, it is also sensitive to the academic needs of Canadian student-athletes. I wrote a story for the Ottawa Sun about 2 years ago about a basketball player, Steph MacDonald, who plays for Canisius and is now on Canada's junior national team. She pointed out one of the determining factors in choosing that school was that, if she came back to Canada to do a master's, she wouldn't have to worry about having her credits accepted.

I'm not down on the OHL. It is a place to be for a high-end talent who's got a great shot at being drafted at age 18. I'm a Kingston fan (paraphrasing what Roger Ebert says about writing for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Chicago Sun-Times, the Frontenacs are my team. Doug Springer just happens to own it). I book days off weeks in advance so I can see them when they're in Ottawa to play the 67's. It's a childish attachment, I know.

However, a fan has to be clear-eyed. There are a lot of reasons why Higgs would go the NCAA route. Another Kingston lad, Scott Harrington, made it known he didn't want to be drafted by the Frontenacs (the "out" that the team's apologists had was that Harrington was not a clear-cut No. 2 overall pick, he was somewhere in the top 5-10 picks).

Anyway, Brock, I apologize for the wordy comment. None of this is cut-and-dried. The situation can change quickly with a young player. If Higgs does report to the Frontenacs, I'll gladly eat my words. How's that for an out clause?

Keep up the great work. This blog is an awesome resource for junior hockey nuts.

Brock Otten said...

Absolutely outstanding comments Sager. No need to apologize for it being lengthy.

Definitely interesting insight into the Higgs situation and the trouble in Kingston.

This year is definitely a big one for the Frontenacs. Offensively and defensively, the team has the most talent it has had in quite some time IMO. Goaltending may be a different story, however. The expectations on the club, with Gilmour at the helm for a full season, have to be high.

But then again, you alluded to the problems in Kingston. Management has failed to improve the club when they've had the chance in the past. Goaltending continues to be an issue, yet nothing has been done to really improve it. That being said, the acquisitions of Geldart and Harnden seem to show that Mavety has made a mild attempt to make the team stronger.

If the team can return to the playoffs, perhaps some things change in Kingston? Nothing like a winning atmosphere and a coach like Gilmour to attract players. But then again, if the corruption going on behind the scenes is as bad as it sounds, perhaps winning can't even make the city marketable.

sager said...

Thanks, Brock. It's a great city, the owner is a good businessperson with his other interests, but with the hockey team, he's pretty lazy and no one's going to force him to run it any other way.

They'll probably be a playoff team this season since it's hard to miss the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons in this league. I'll be happy when they do, but at the same time, Springer said last season their goal was to be "top four" in the East. No one called him on it when they were in the cellar.

Dobber said...

Not many games to compare yet, but so far the only 92 defensemen with any points and a positive plus/minus are O'Connor, Levi, Buonomo, and Gudbranson. Given that this thread is about "unheralded" players or those who saw limited ice last season, that excuses Gudbranson (very "heralded") and O'Connor (played 62 games last year). Levi (Plymouth) has 1 assist and is a plus 2 in one game. Buonomo had 1 goal and is a plus 1 in one game. The other 92 D-corps either have not played, did not register a point and/or are in negative plus/minus so far (including some of the "heralded" players like Windsor's Posa). Of all the 92 D's, Gubranson is about the only one who's consistently been hyped, from that perspective I guess you could say all of the rest of them are unheralded, however, there are quite a few who didn't see much ice last year. I'm excited to see what will happen this year as the others have an opportunity to step forward. Guys like Buonomo, Levi, and Shane Rover (Niagara) had about 12-15 games last year- enough to get some seasoning, but also enough to technically still be considered rookies. It's way too early to tell, but it'll be interesting to compare these guy's numbers to their 92 peers who saw 50-60 games last season.

Brock Otten said...

Absolutely Dobber. The way you broke down the stats on HF Boards was excellent and I'd be curious to see what that looks like at the end of the season.

Levi, in particular, appears to be a guy who could really step forward this season. He has NHL size and came from the U.S. with a fair amount of hype. He had a solid preseason and appears to be carrying that into the regular season thus far. With that size and with a solid skill package, I wouldn't be surprised if he jumps into the first few rounds of the NHL draft in June.